This past weekend, Spanish soccer club, FC Barcelona, ventured to the Holy Land on a "Peace & Sports Tour." The tour included trips to both Israel and Palestine, including the holy sites of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Western Wall in Jerusalem, hosted by the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. In Jerusalem, joined by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Israeli President Shimon Peres thanked Barcelona for "making the dreams of the children come true" and proclaimed that "sport, and football in particular, breaks down barriers, fights racism and creates a horizon of hope for all children in the entire world."
The tour included soccer clinics and mini-games for thousands of Israeli and Palestinian children in both the West Bank of Palestine and in Israel Proper. The President of FC Barcelona, Sandro Rosell, expressed his hope for the peace process and the reopening of channels of communication between Israelis and Palestinians. "We have come to this land to strengthen our bonds of friendship and help you, both Israelis and Palestinians, to find meeting points to help you along the road to peace," he stated. "This is a historic moment for us, and could not have come at a better time, coinciding as it does with the reopening of peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in Washington."
In Palestine, where the Israeli Occupation dictates every aspect of daily life, including soccer, Palestinians rejoiced in FC Barcelona's arrival. Because of the Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement and the resulting Palestinian Diaspora, the Palestinian National Team has struggled to play or even practice together in the West Bank. Their coach, for example, is only allowed to enter the West Bank for games, not practices — the same goes for several players. Given this context, the announcer at Dura Municipal Stadium proclaimed, "Today, FC Barcelona shows the whole world that we Palestinians are not alone, that we are together to fight for equality and fair play. Thank you for being here, for supporting our message that football is for all!" to thousands of screaming Palestinian fans and international press.
"My heart is so full that I feel like a child," said Mohammed, a 43-year-old father of four from Hebron. "To have these celebrities in Palestine for our children changes everything for their dreams. The Right to our state [the UN Palestinian Statehood bid], our victory in Arab Idol, now FC Barcelona in Palestine — I pray that our luck is changing in Palestine! Today, I pray for the peace process with the Israelis."
FC Barcelona was hosted the following day at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, where thousands of Jewish and Palestinian Israeli children joined the clinics from the Peres Center for Peace.
Below are photographs of FC Barcelona's visit to Palestine's Dura Municipal Stadium near the West Bank town of Hebron, one of the most controversial and difficult flashpoints of the Occupation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at large.
FC Barcelona players at Dura Municipal Stadium near Hebron, West Bank, Palestine.
Palestinian boys giddily await their turn to take the field with the FC Barcelona players for their first clinic.
Palestinian girls lined up in preparation for mini-games with the FC Barcelona players at Dura Municipal Stadium.
Palestinian children join the FC Barcelona players for soccer clinics.
Palestinian children join the FC Barcelona players for mini-games.
Thousands of Palestinians gathered at Dura Municipal Stadium near Hebron, West Bank, Palestine.
Hundreds of Palestinian Authority security forces joined the party, moderating the festivities at Dura Municipal Stadium.
The FC Barcelona players running drills for thousands of exuberant Palestinian fans.
The FC Barcelona players stretching as thousands of Palestinian fans cheer.
A young Palestinian participant tells local television: "This is a dream to have them in Palestine! I never dreamed they could come! I think to myself, please don't wake up!"
FC Barcelona players leave the field amid thousands of screaming Palestinian fans, heading off to Israel for similar clinics with Israeli children in Tel Aviv-Jaffa the following day.